A Painful Must-Read

Doctors know more. Don’t they?

They are seen as reliable storytellers. They box in the symptoms and track down causes and correlates. Patients can’t do so; often jaded with diseased thoughts and fragmented narratives.

Doctors have the world of Latin and Greek etymology to utilize when retelling their stories. Patients don’t.

I am ashamed that I cannot fully explain my migraines. But when I came across Virginia Woolf’s relatable confession that neither could she, I felt relieved at first. Then panicked. How come the language I hold so close to my heart can not communicate the most fundamental elements of being human, vulnerable, and … sick?

I now know that I am not alone in this mystery. when a doctor asked Porochista Khakpour, author of Sick to name her disease, she didn’t. She couldn’t.

That’s heroic.

With words, doctors seem to circumscribe symptoms into a diagnosable illness, a box. Left without this device, Khakpour embraces the undefinable, both in medicine and society.

She admits honestly, “outside me there was all sorts of possibility; it was the inside that was the problem”(79).

Words, she lacks. Metaphors, however, she owns. With simple vocabulary, Khakpour bridges what she feels with what she cannot express, leading us into the reality of human fragility.

Her voice jampacks all her thoughts in long, unwinding lines of personal dialogue. That was only her racing thoughts. In times of panic and worsened health, Khakpour’s sentences shrunken; my breathing shallowed in reciprocity. Jabs of pain and an undercurrent of anger toward unswerving doctors scream from her pages: something necessary in the age of ever-persisting medical dogmatism.

Chronic disease is becoming more enigmatic, especially for doctors. So maybe doctors need to put their jargon aside and listen a bit more. As for the rest of us, maybe we need to endure the pains of reading this needle-like, even irritating, truthful memoir.

Kimia Heydari